THE Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF), which roared into life yesterday, is a good opportunity for the country to market itself and reverse years of bad publicity.
Comment: NewsDay Editor
Recent reports have revealed that the country is one of the worst investment destinations on the continent and this is an opportunity to reverse this perception.
For example, a report by Quantum Global ranked Zimbabwe 37th out of 54 African countries as an investment destination and this harms the country’s prospects of attracting foreign direct investment.
Zimbabwe has embarked on improving the ease of doing business, but so far this has been woefully inadequate and more effort needs to be put to ensure that the country reverses the way the outside world views it.
While the trade fair is a good starting point, Zimbabwe clearly needs more to spruce up its image.
If Zimbabwe is genuine about harnessing linkages for industrial development, as the trade fair theme suggests, then the government should be at the forefront of telling investors what it is doing to make the country more investor-friendly.
For example, indigenisation laws continue to cause consternation for investors and perpetuate the belief that their investments would not be safe in Zimbabwe.
President Robert Mugabe slapped down his Indigenisation minister Patrick Zhuwao last year, as a fight with Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa threatened to scupper the little investment the country had attracted.
While this put the issue to bed, the government’s failure to repeal or amend indigenisation laws means investors will always view Zimbabwe sceptically.
The no-brainer is fixing the country’s political situation and human rights record, as many investors are wary of putting their money where there is a threat of volatility or where the government routinely violates people’s rights.
The World Bank, for example, has advised Zimbabwe to stop the harassment, arrests and threats to human rights activists and journalists and minimise rights violations.
These are the basic fundamentals that the country is failing to get right and this is responsible for investor flight, not the overhyped sanctions or imaginary fights with the West.
While ZITF should be an opportunity to showcase what the country offers, it will remain an exercise in futility if the government obstinately refuses to reform.
The need for reform – of the business culture, the legal system and the rights situation – has never been more apparent and the government is best advised to put concerted efforts in this regard.
Authorities may host as many fairs, invite foreign journalists or pay lobbyists, but as long as the country gets it wrong on the basics, then these would be an elaborate waste of time and money.